Quick! Someone call around to Clint Eastwood’s house. We think he’s had a stroke. A 2h 17m long stroke starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts. From the man who brought you Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River comes Days of Our Lives: The J. Edgar Story.
Let’s start with the good and get it out of the way. Leo. Now that that’s done… No, to be fair DiCaprio is one of the redeeming features about this movie. His Edgar is flawed and disturbed and goes some way to explaining the insecurity and paranoia characteristic of the man himself. He brings a bit of his Howard Hughes to the role of a broken and obsessive man. Armie Hammer breathes a little bit of fun to the role of Clyde Tolson as a young man, but overplays old to such a degree as to make it cliché. I like Armie Hammer, I think he’ll go far, so let’s all forget Tolson’s soap-opera temper tantrum.
Contentious paragraph: The women in this film are dangerously underused and underdeveloped. Dustin Lance Black is not reknowned for his strong female characters, or indeed his ‘any’ female characters. Dench’s Anna Marie Hoover swings wildly between superstitious zealot and Lady Macbeth. Watts is marvellous but barely present, having only two scenes into which she can sink her teeth.
The script itself is nightmarishly sloppy. Black tries to tell Hoover’s life story with the central thread of the Lindbergh Baby case. Unfortunately what ensues is a scattershot series of episodes from Hoover’s life with too long between chronologically adjacent events to be coherent. The script is also aimless, with very little idea of what Black or Eastwood were trying to portray. We’re presented character development sans plot.
Technically the film looks great; Eastwood plumping for the oh-so-popular trend of washing out his colours (Colours were invented in the 70s when people started dropping acid and thus don’t belong in this period piece). The costumes, sets and cars all look fantastic, can’t fault them. The biggest technical problem is the make-up. DiCaprio and Hammer’s later-life make-up is rubbery and distracting. It manages to alienate you from the characters, making each return to the later life scenes disengaging.
Overall the film is much less than the sum of its parts. An Eastwood/DiCaprio/Dench dreamteam is let down by a seriously muddled script and poor pacing, making the whole film feel like a slog to get through. No doubt the academy is going to lap this up and nominate it for everything (Actor, Director, Film and Screenplay), when if it had anybody else attached to it, it would be overlooked and then forgotten.